Friday, March 16, 2007

Crawley and Dawkins (Pt. I)

William Crawley of the BBC conducts an excellent interview with Richard Dawkins. Anyone wishing to get an idea of what the controversy surrounding Dawkins' views is all about will find this session to be a useful introduction.

In the course of the interview Dawkins makes some interesting claims. For example, there's this one:

"Before Darwin it was very hard (intellectually) to be an atheist. After Darwin it was very hard not to be one. Darwinism makes it very hard to be a theist."

So much for efforts by those who believe that one can be both a Darwinian and a theist to find common ground with the anti-theist Darwinians. For people like Dawkins there is no common ground. One is either a complete naturalistic materialist or a superstitious ignoramus.

It should be mentioned that the word "Darwinism" isn't strictly synonomous with "evolution." Darwinism is the metaphysical belief that materialistic, natural processes and forces are adequate by themselves to account for all aspects of life. It is possible to be both a theist and an evolutionist, but I agree with Dawkins that it is very difficult to be a Darwinian evolutionist and a theist.

Dawkins then wonders:

"Why should there be a point to life? The meaning of life is whatever you make it. From a Darwinian point of view it is to propagate the species."

In other words, as long as you don't give the question of purpose too much thought you can avoid the depression and despair that seeps into the psyche when it begins to dawn on people that their lives are merely "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Dawkins seems to recognize that materialism strips life of any real meaning or purpose and leaves us to try to find some reason for getting out of bed in the morning. For Dawkins meaning comes from trying to prove there is no God, but as I think C.S. Lewis pointed out, there's something peculiar about making it one's purpose to prove that there is no purpose.

He adds that:

"It doesn't make much sense to go around and count the number of people who believe something in order to decide whether [a belief] is a delusion or not. The best thing to do is to look at the arguments for or against a belief."

Precisely. Which is why it's somewhat beside the point to insist, as so many anti-IDers do, that ID is bogus because no top scientists believe it. This is a diversion and a fallacy. What's important is not whether a majority of scientists believe something but rather the reasons why they believe it or don't beleive it. In many cases Darwinism is embraced because it is a necessary crutch to sustain a materialist metaphysics. In other words, as Dawkins has said elsewhere, Darwinism makes it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.

In response to the extraordinary fine-tuning of the universe Dawkins offers three counter-arguments:

He first raises the question of where the designer comes from. If God designed the universe, he asks, then what designed God?

His second reply, which he conflates with the third but which is really a distinct argument, is what is called the Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP). It says that we should not think it so very special that the universe is as it is for were it not, we would not be around to notice it. The fact that we exist means that the universe must be tuned as precisely as it is.

Sensing perhaps, the absurdity of the WAP he quickly imports a completely unscientific, non-empirical speculative hypothesis called the Multiverse theory. According to this, our universe is just one of an innumerable array of universes each having different parameters, values and laws. Given the existence of so many worlds it becomes more likely, even probable, that one world will be structured the way ours is.

Think of it this way: The chances that somebody is going to be holding the winning lottery ticket increase as the number of tickets sold increases. The more tickets/universes, the more likely one of them will have just the right sequence of numbers.

I'd like to consider these three arguments in another post.


Precipitous Drop in Violence

This article contains some important good news:

Brigadier Qassim Moussawi, Iraqi military spokesman, said the number of Iraqis killed by violence in Baghdad in the 30 days since Operation Enforcing the Law began was 265, down from 1,440 killed in the previous month. He said that the number of attacks in surrounding provinces had increased, although he did not provide figures.

Major General William Caldwell, US military spokesman, meanwhile said: "Murders and executions have come down by over 50 per cent [in Baghdad]."

He acknowledged there had been a slight climb in the number killed in the last seven days, but not as much as at the equivalent point in the cycle of previous Baghdad security plans. "This past week is normally the week in which the number of murders goes back to their previous levels," he said.

And this with only two of the five brigades called for by the surge tactic currently in place. Perhaps we might ask a question of those of our friends who opposed George Bush's troop increase: If the murder rate continues to decline in Baghdad or to remain at low levels, was the Presidents' tactic the right thing to do?

Perhaps congressman Murtha might like to entertain the question.


Iranian Defections

Things are getting very curious in Iran. Now come reports that yet another high ranking Iranian military officer has disappeared along with his family. Whether he has defected or whether he has been eliminated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard for unknown derelictions is not known, but a lot of people in Iran, from the top on down, must be wondering whom they can trust. This whole article is fascinating, especially the last several paragraphs:

Three weeks ago the Iranian armed forces command in Teheran lost contact with a senior officer who had been serving in Iraq with the al-Quds unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, according to a senior Iranian official cited in the Wednesday edition of the London-based Arabic daily al-Sharq al-Awsat.

The Iranian source said that it is still unclear why contact with the officer, Colonel Amir Muhammad Shirazi, was lost. "It is possible that the American forces in Iraq arrested him along with a group of 13 Iranian military and intelligence officials," he said, adding that this is just one of the scenarios being investigated by Tehran.

The lack of word from the al-Quds officer is attracting heightened interest because of the mysterious disappearance - or perhaps defection - of Iran's former Deputy Defense Minister, General Ali Reza Asgari , a week ago.

An Iranian source denied reports circulating in Iran that Asgari was being held prisoner by the Americans and is being tortured. "The people investigating the affair have no new information about him. Such reports are part of a propaganda campaign intended to ... prevent other high-ranking Iranian officials who may be thinking of defecting from doing so," the source told the Iranian news agency FARS.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat reported that a Tehran military court sentenced to death a colonel in Iranian military intelligence who recently returned from service in Iraq. The officer was accused of collaborating with American forces and providing them with details on the deployment and activities of the al-Quds unit and Iranian military intelligence operatives. He was also accused of providing the Americans with classified documents, photographs and maps related to Iran's nuclear program and armed forces.

The newspaper reported that over the past three years, dozens of members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards and military intelligence units have defected to the American forces in Iraq.

Officers from various branches of Iran's armed forces operate in Iraq in both covert and overt roles. The United States accuses Iranian agents of aiding Shiite militias in Iraq with training, weapons and funding. Over the past few months, American forces in Iraq have arrested a number of Iranian officers.

I'd like to think that somehow the good guys are behind all these defections and disappearances and that we are reaping an intelligence bonanza from it.

HT: HotAir which has more on the story.